The heritage of our fathers

ILWU Walking Boss George Donald Porter and family, circa 1958. Porter lived with his family in the Potrero Hill Housing Projects at the time of this photo. Porter was a Silver Terrace homeowner and shipping clerk for American Presidents Line at age 56 when forced into premature medical retirement due to pulmonary asbestosis. His daughter, Dr. Ahimsa Porter Sumchai, founded the Hunters Point Community Biomonitoring Program.

by Ahimsa Porter Sumchai MD, PD

The loudest voice in the room!

“Our power comes from the fact that we create the wealth. Wealth is power; we have the ability to withhold that power.” – Boots Riley, filmmaker and activist, Juneteenth 2020 ILWU shutdown Port of Oakland

“An injury to one is an injury to all!” The International Longshore and Warehouse Union shut down 29 West Coast seaboard ports for eight hours on Friday, June 19, 2020, in honor of Juneteenth, the date in 1865 when slaves in Texas were belatedly proclaimed free. It was the largest work stoppage the nation’s most powerful union has undertaken in a decade.

The ILWU West Coast Port Shutdown affected 10,000 workers in Washington, Oregon and California.

Protestors gathered at the Port of Oakland and marched to City Hall, followed by a mile-long car caravan. Speakers, including Angela Davis, emphasized the power of organized labor. Gabriel Prawl, past president ILWU Local 52 described it as “a historic action … the first time organized labor has taken an action to stop work on Juneteenth.”

“There’s a difference between a movement and a moment. A moment means we do something for a day and it’s over. A movement requires sacrifice, and that’s what we’re doing as longshoremen. We’re sacrificing our day’s wages to make this happen!”

Statement from ILWU Local 13: “We have desegregated our membership … condemned the internment of Japanese Americans … appointed the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to honorary membership … opposed the wars in the East and Middle East … supported Occupy Wall Street … fought for immigrant rights … and we oppose police brutality.”
Thousands marched followed by a mile-long caravan in support of the ILWU West Coast Port Shutdown on Juneteenth. – Photo: Beth LaBerge, KQED
At the Juneteenth Port Shutdown rally, Angela Davis told the crowd: “Thank you for shutting down the ports today, on Juneteenth … the day when we renew our commitment to the struggle for freedom and civil rights.” – Photo: Yalonda M. James, SF Chronicle

The fathers among us

Predominantly African American male shipyard workers march home from a hard day’s labor in World War II Hunters Point.
Longshore walking bosses George Carter (left) and George Donald Porter (right) in about 1965 socializing with other longshore workers at Tony’s Bayview on Pier 26 or 28 beneath the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. – Photo: Archive of George Donald Porter
In loving memory of Ernest Hamilton Tascoe Jr.

Ernest Hamilton Tascoe Jr., at age 40, was a handsome, responsible HVAC engineer and mechanic, recruited from the state of Louisiana by the San Francisco Naval Shipyard in 1952 and assigned to the prestigious United States Naval Radiological Defense Laboratories (NRDL) main headquarters in Building 815. Tascoe remained there for the duration of his career until the closure of NRDL operations in 1968.

The United States Naval Radiological Defense Laboratories (NRDL) consolidated research and administration operations into Building 815 in 1955. Located on Crisp Avenue, east of Palou, this windowless six story building housed NRDL’s most disturbing secrets, including human experimentation and the disposal of radioactive waste in laboratory drains connecting to the Hunters Point community and San Francisco Bay.

Tascoe was a trusted NRDL engineer and mechanic charged with maintenance of appliances necessary to preserve the safety and integrity of the environment for researchers and lab animals. He completed 20 years of civilian service with the Navy and ultimately died of mesothelioma caused by occupational exposure to asbestos and toxic air contaminants. As evidence of the remarkable degree of trust invested in him is the fact that Tascoe kept in his possession floor plans for Building 815. the most guarded building on the naval base!

Hunters Point and the Rad Labs” references interviews with NRDL era shipyard workers who report that activities conducted in Building 815 were “top secret” and include the report of a driver who sat outside Building 815 for hours waiting for a high level passenger to emerge from a meeting.

Floor plans for NRDL’s main laboratory in Building 815 were entrusted to Ernest Hamilton Tascoe Jr. during an era when African American men were restricted in work duty assignments at the Hunters Point Shipyard, serving most frequently as laborers.

Tascoe’s daughter, Ramona Tascoe, MD, recalls childhood memories of journeys by car with her father, mother and siblings through the segregated South to Louisiana and his death from a recurrent lung cancer caused by exposure to air contaminants known to be present in HVAC, air conditioning and refrigeration systems.

Next generation NRDL researcher Dr. Ramona Tascoe, also a founder of the Hunters Point Community Biomonitoring Program, kisses her father, Ernest Hamilton Tascoe Jr.
The Hunters Point Naval Shipyard was the loading site for the atomic bomb “Little Boy” that was dropped on the civilian population of Hiroshima in August 1945. By 1946, the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard sited the nation’s premier radiological research laboratory. Twenty thousand people worked for the NRDL, the majority recruited from Texas and Louisiana and housed in military style barracks on the Hunters Point hilltop. – Photo: Wikipedia
According to “Atomic Shadows: Hunters Point and the Rad Labs,” “some 17,000 people, most of them living in the Hunters Point housing adjacent to the Shipyard, worked in contact with radioactive and other dangerous toxins daily. Simply taking a shower or changing clothes after work did not protect them.” The shipyard’s Historical Radiological Assessment documents human experimentation in which muscular male volunteers ingested radioactive potassium to determine its impact on muscle mass and activity.
The residual impacts of NRDL’s operations spanning 1946-1969 are being detected by HP Biomonitoring in residents and workers at the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard using urine toxicology screening.

‘The paper’s future is unwritten …’

SF Bay View publisher Willie Ratcliff appears in the Feb. 4, 2018, Examiner article “An Ever-Changing View.” For almost 30 years, Willie and Mary Ratcliff have resided in and published the Bay View, described as “an internationally read Black newspaper, treasured independent news source and one of the few publications widely distributed inside the walls of America’s prison nation.” – Photo: Emma Marie Chiang, Special to the SF Examiner

“People need to be paid!” Those are the words of Willie Ratcliff, who immigrated from East Liberty, Texas, in 1950 and worked as an NRDL era shipyard laborer for 99 cents an hour before establishing Liberty Builders, his construction company.

In 1991, Willie and Mary Ratcliff began publishing the SF Bay View newspaper. Faced with advanced age and declining revenues due to the outmigration of the city’s African American population, the Ratcliffs publish the online edition and a monthly print newspaper as a “labor of love.”

Environmental health and justice are issues the Bay View has championed since its inception. The Bayview Hunters Point community is located in heavily industrialized southeast San Francisco, one of California’s most polluted neighborhoods.

On Sept. 24, 2018, the San Francisco Bay View newspaper was recognized as a Legacy Business by the San Francisco Historical Preservation and Small Business Commission – a status conferred upon enterprises with more than 30 years of community service.

Mary and Willie desperately need your help to keep going! If you can assist with editing, production and financing of the SF Bay View, please contact editor@sfbayview.com.

Mary and Willie Ratcliff – Photo: Marie Chiang, Special to SF Examiner
In 2007, Willie Ratcliff receives one of dozens of awards he has accrued – flanked by SF Bay View contributors Wanda Sabir (her daughter TaSin is at far left), San Francisco mayoral candidate Ahimsa Porter Sumchai and JR Valrey with his family. – Photo: Jocelyn Good
Mary Ratcliff – in a “labor of love” – places newly published issues of the Bay View for distribution outside their home and office on Third Street at Palou. – Photo: Marie Chiang, Special to SF Examiner
Mary Ratcliff released the findings of her HP Biomonitoring urine toxicology screening that detects numerous radioactive and toxic chemicals documented to be present at the Hunters Point Shipyard. Rubidium, thallium, strontium, nickel, potassium, manganese and vanadium were detected in elevated to toxic concentrations exceeding maximum allowable levels! [Her correct date of birth is March 5, 1939.]

The human breast is one of the most sensitive tissues to radiation. Mary Ratcliff is awaiting the results of a UCSF Mission Bay work up of a breast mass that is most likely a breast cancer caused by exposure to radiation documented to be present at the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard – and in her urine tox screen.

Mary and Willie desperately need your help to keep going! If you can assist with editing, production and financing of the SF Bay View, please contact editor@sfbayview.com.

The Hunters Point Naval Shipyard is an EPA designated federal Superfund site.

SF Bay View Health and Environmental Science Editor Ahimsa Porter Sumchai, MD, PD, principal investigator for the Hunters Point Community Biomonitoring Program, founding chair of the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard Restoration Advisory Board’s Radiological Subcommittee and contributor to the 2005 Draft Historical Radiological Assessment, can be reached at asumchai@gmail.com. Dr. Sumchai is also president and medical director of Golden State MD Health & Wellness, an author and a UCSF and Stanford trained researcher.